CONWAY, S.C. – Joe Biden’s down – but he’s not out.
And the former vice president’s banking on a win in South Carolina’s first-in-the-south primary on Saturday to pump new life into his struggling bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The one-time unrivaled front-runner in the race was greeted by a crowd of 700 – large by Biden standards – as well as a smaller overflow group at his town hall Thursday night at Coastal Carolina University.
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Biden didn’t make a plea for support, but celebrity endorser Vivica A. Fox spotlighted what’s at stake in Saturday’s primary.
“We are counting on you guys to start to get the 2020 election back on track,” Fox emphasized to the crowd moments before introducing Biden.
Biden’s long considered South Carolina – where black voters make up roughly 60 percent of the Democratic presidential primary electorate – his firewall.
Thanks in large part to his eight years as vice president under President Barack Obama, America’s first black commander-in-chief, Biden remains popular with African-American voters. And after disappointing fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as a distant second-place finish to current front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders in last weekend’s Nevada caucuses, a convincing victory in South Carolina is a necessity.
But a loss in the Palmetto State would likely bring an eventual end to Biden’s third bid for the White House.
All of the latest polls show Biden with a lead – but they’re volatile. One survey puts Biden a whopping 20 percentage points ahead of Sanders – who’s stepped up his outreach to black voters – while another suggests the former vice president with a narrow 4-point-edge over the populist Vermont senator, who followed up a win in New Hampshire’s primary with a shellacking of the rest of the Democratic presidential field in Nevada.
A RealClearPolitics average of the six polls conducted this week indicates Biden at 34 percent support among likely Democratic presidential primary voters in South Carolina, a dozen points ahead of Sanders in second place.
In third place in those polls is environmental and progressive advocate Tom Steyer, who’s poured millions of his own money into his South Carolina effort to win the support of black voters. He’s emerged as a significant factor in the race.
Throw in another metric – pumped up fundraising. Thanks to a well-received muscular prime-time debate performance on Tuesday night in Charleston, Biden’s seen a boost in fundraising, which the former vice president has struggled with this cycle.
The Biden campaign touted that it brought in $1.2 million from nearly 30,000 donors in the day after the debate. And the pro-Biden super PAC Unite the Country on Friday told Fox News it hauled in $2.5 million on Thursday.
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And on Wednesday, in the wake of the debate, the former vice president landed the endorsement of longtime Rep. James Clyburn – the dean of Palmetto State Democrats. The backing by Clyburn, the most senior black politician in the state, was seen as a boost.
Another prominent black endorser in South Carolina, state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, told Fox News on Friday that he’s “cautiously optimistic.”
“By every indication, we expect a big Joe Biden victory but we have to continue to keep our feet on the pedal because we can’t take anything for granted. So I’m encouraging our team to keep knocking on doors, to keep making calls, keep tweeting, staying engaged,” he said.
At Thursday’s event, Biden once again spotlighted his close working relationship with his boss for eight years.
“The vice president and president who are the closest in American history are Barack and me,” he said.
Coastal Carolina University student Jay Dye was in the audience at the Biden campaign event on Thursday night.
The undecided black voter said “I’m leaning towards [Biden] but I’m still teetering. I’m also thinking about Bernie. It’s between those two.”
And he shared that his decision “will come down to the last minute.”
Coleman Randall of nearby Little River, S.C., who was also in the crowd, said he decided even before Clyburn’s endorsement on Wednesday to vote for Biden.
“I trust Jim Clyburn. I trust Biden’s record up to this point,” he explained.
And looking ahead to three days after Saturday’s primary – when 14 states from coast to coast hold contests on Super Tuesday – Randall said: “I’m also interested to see what happens after South Carolina since he’s putting so much into South Carolina, so give him a shot, try to put him forward and see what happens next week and may the best man or woman win.”
Biden’s team is hoping a convincing victory in South Carolina will generate plenty of attention and earned national media to propel the ex-vice president into Super Tuesday – where giant states like California and Texas hold contests and a third of the Democratic presidential nomination delegates are up for grabs.
He’ll need it, because as he’s concentrated all his energy on South Carolina the past week, Biden’s badly trailed his rivals when it comes to investing time and money on the Super Tuesday states.
But first things first.
A cautious Biden said Friday morning during a CNN interview that “I don’t want to jinx myself along the line here. I feel very good. I’ve worked hard to earn these votes. And I think I’ll do well.”